Tuesday, March 13, 2007

03/04/07 Napa Valley Marathon

Real life has been kind of busy (though not altogether unpleasant) for the last couple weeks... so this report will be a bit shorter than most. Many people would call this a positive :-).

The Napa Valley Marathon is one of my five favorite races - entirely due to the beauty of the course. The organization is fine, although it is the biggest race I know that still doesn't use chip timing. The expo is small, but adequate. You get a nice technical shirt and a really nice bag. Napa is getting to be a crowded place, even in winter. You probably need reservations for meals if you want to go somewhere nice... and dinner will take awhile. Service in the Napa area is friendly, but universally slow. But... the scenery of this race still puts it up near the top.

Also, this race has great spectators. They aren't wall-to-wall for 26.2. It's a race in the countryside. However, at every major intersection, the crowds are large and LOUD.

The course is a point-to-point between Calistoga and Napa down the Silverado Trail. The downside, of course, is an early ride on a school bus - in this case 5a. The upside, and it is a BIG upside here, is 26.2 miles of beautiful scenery. Per the elevation chart and map, this is mostly a downhill course. I'm not talking Tucson or St George, though. From top to bottom is about 350 feet. Additionally, there are several challenging ups along the way, particularly M2-3, M5-6, and M19-20.5.

I've done this race a few times. In the 29 years of this race, it has rained twice. Unfortunately, one of those times was last year. And I was there. 23 miles of headwind, 26.2 miles of miserable cold rain... and a 4:01 for my efforts. Based on my past few races, I have been stuck in 4:0x land recently, so I was interested in whether I could beat last year's time - especially because the weather was supposed to be (and did turn out to be) nice. So my goals were simple: race somewhat evenly and beat 4:01.

I had one thing working against me. It was called "Saturday". I visited a winery, a brewery, and a champagnery (is that a word?) on Saturday. And, yes, I sampled. And I ate. And ate. Sunday morning arrived hangover-free... I didn't drink that much... but my belly was not happy.

The weather was perfect and I enjoyed the sights. I kind of stuck to my own thoughts for this race, so I can't offer up any great stories of the people I met. The weather was awesome for me, though maybe a little warm for most. The scenery was perfect. I just soaked it all in.

I hit the half around 1:51 and was feeling good. 4:01 seemed reasonable.

Then my belly decided to participate. Unfortunately, my brain was trying to concentrate on "marathon" and my belly wanted to do "interpretive dance". One potty stop. Then two. Then three. And these were not the express kind of stops. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. I guess I could have tried to hold it, but, oh, who am I kidding? Better out than in for me.

Around M20, I started hearing someone tooting on one of those wooden whistles that kind of sounds like a train. I thought it was a spectator, but it kept happening. I figured it out about M22. It was a guy running the race. He brought a whistle... I think to encourage a friend or something. It was clear that he was running slowly for his level of fitness. He'd shoot ahead and play his whistle for the water stops and spectators. He hung near me for the rest of the race; I assume his friend was running my approximate pace.

I could have done without the whistle blower, but it wasn't super annoying. I'm happy that I didn't have to endure this for the full race. I bet the friend wanted to choke him.

At M23, we pulled off the Silverado Trail and into the neighborhoods of Napa's north side. I hadn't slowed too much, so I tried to speed up and make the last three miles as fast or faster than the first three. I got close.

M26.2. Robert Lopez - Seattle, Washington. Hot dog! I got announced again.

3:48. Va-voom!

My best time since last June (a 3:45 in Iowa).

My splits were not good for my "run somewhat evenly" goal... 1:51/1:57. Then again, if I subtract out my potty time, it was more like 1:51/1:53. Still not perfect, but that's about as even as I get. And a 3:44 overall makes me feel pretty good.

Dean K also ran this race (3:05ish). As did Dick Beardsley (2:45).

Next up? My first 50k. Up, down, and around Chuckanut Mountain in Bellingham, Washington.

I'll see you there.

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